9. Israel/Palestine: A One-State Solution?

The idea of dividing Palestine into Jewish and Arab states has been center stage since 1937, but has not produced a solution. Is the model of a single state, with shared powers, a better bet?

No. The prospects for a two-state solution are bleak right now, but that does not mean that merging the two nationalist movements is a workable alternative. If Israelis and Palestinians cannot agree on terms of separation, how will they manage the minutiae of intimate cohabitation?

The simplest one-state solution is, of course, domination of one side by the other. That is what the Israeli right has in mind with proposals for limited Palestinian autonomy, and where --as critics rightly point out -- things seem headed at the moment. But the idea that Palestinians would accept a permanent inferior status is fantasy. It is a recipe for continued conflict.

The same can be said about Palestinian proposals for a unitary state with the right of return for six million Palestinian refugees. It would become, de facto, an Arab state. Israelis can count, and a fundamental premise of Zionism was to establish a Jewish-majority state where Jews could find refuge and express their national identity. (To be consistent, this should also be conceded to Palestinian nationalism.)

This leaves the idea of a binational state in which neither side dominates the other. Nothing wrong with the idea, but one has to assume the end of the conflict in order to negotiate the actual arrangements. Just one telling example: what will the immigration laws be? Whose "right of return" will be granted? Both sides? Right.

Fundamentally, a binational state does not grant either national movement the identity and basic self-determination that both consider sacred.

There are a handful of states in which binationalism seems to work: Canada, Belgium, Switzerland. Some Canadians and Belgians question how well it has worked, but in any event these nations do not have long histories of violent internal conflict, and have over-arching identities that both sides accept.

There is a longer list of nations in which efforts to develop a common identity, and share power between warring parties, have collapsed: Cyprus, Pakistan, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and a number of other African states.

So if the one-state model is a day dream, how is self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians to be achieved? Recent discussion, by leading intellectuals on both sides, has called for creative thinking about various permutations of the two-state model. More on this in future effusions.